The Return ofthe Dreaded MISO… - theHumm December 2018
The Return ofthe Dreaded MISO… - theHumm December 2018
By Tony Stuart
A few years ago, I wrote a column warning about the dangers of purchasing a MISO (Musical-Instrument-Shaped Object). With the holiday buying season here, I thought it might be a good idea to revisit this topic, and hopefully save our readers from making a potentially costly mistake.
Before I proceed any further, I’d like to share an important piece of advice with you: please don’t buy an instrument for a student without first asking for their teacher’s advice. Seeing an instrument advertised at a great price is tempting, but more often than not you risk ending up with an expensive and shiny doorstop. I have been in the game a long time and have seen just about everything. That being said, here are a few true stories.
A parent picked up a saxophone for their child at an estate sale, got a presumably fantastic price, and asked me to look it over. I took a look and knew immediately that repairs on this instrument were going to be costly. I advised the parent to send it to my repair technician, who confirmed my suspicions. The saxophone needed a complete re-pad, alignment, and cleaning. The estimate for this work was $600, and my technician let the parent know that they advised against doing the work, because the market value for this used horn was only about $300. I’m not sure where that saxophone is now, but what I do know is that it isn’t being played and enjoyed.
My second story involves another saxophone. This used instrument was found online for a ridiculous price. The instrument needed a complete overhaul. Rather than pay to have the work done, the parent ordered a new set of pads and springs from eBay and decided to fix the instrument themselves because they were “pretty handy”. While I admire industriousness, overhauling a saxophone is a very complex job. Instrument technicians go through rigorous training to achieve their certification, and their reputation (and livelihood) depends on them doing quality work. I’m sure you’ve guessed that this instrument never made it into an eager student’s hands.
Both of these situations could have been avoided by simply asking for buying advice. With that in mind, here are a few things to keep in mind before you decide to put an instrument under the tree:
Don’t buy an instrument at the same store that you buy your groceries or tires. These are MISOs that look pretty but are very poorly made, and are often unrepairable;
Don’t always go for the shiniest horn. Some of the best instruments in my inventory at school look they have been through a war. Decades ago student instruments were often made with quality metals and more durable parts before the flood of “outsourced” instruments reached North America;
After speaking with your child’s teacher, call a reputable music store and find out about their new and used options. A reputable dealer will give you honest advice, because they have a reputation to uphold;
If you decide to make your purchase online from a buy and sell group, please ask your child’s teacher for advice. I often refer ads like this to my repair technician and/or fellow musicians to get their thoughts.
Buying an instrument for a student is a wonderful thing. To avoid ending up with a MISO, I believe that the advice presented above should help steer you in the right direction. You’re welcome!
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